Rust in the Root
Grade : A

Rust in the Root does not take place in the same universe as Justina Ireland’s paranormal historical duology Dread Nation/Deathless Divide, which both earned DIKs here. This book can’t possibly be as good as those, right? Surprise! It’s even better.

In a magic-infused alternate history, the U.S. of the 1930s was blighted by the Great Rust, not the Dust Bowl, and the Industrial Revolution occurred when Mechomancers, who produce things technologically, replaced organic and traditional nature-based magic. Natural magicians like Laura Ann Langston must be classified and licensed by the government (and of course Black magicians receive vastly unequal treatment). At the end of her budget and with nowhere to go, she takes a job with the Colored Auxiliary of the Bureau of the Arcane. Their job is to tackle areas of blight. The next task? The Ohio Blight - from which fellow Colored Auxiliary troops have stopped returning. And I hesitate to tell you even a micron more of the plot because it’s so gripping.

It’s a climate and pollution allegory. It’s a story of race. It’s a story of how America relies on and exploits traditional knowledge (especially Black knowledge and knowledge which is coded feminine) but elevates and financially rewards science, technology, and the masculine and white. The magical elements are well developed, with an engaging and (thank heaven) internally consistent system of power, its origin, and its uses. Laura, for instance, is a Floramancer - someone who can extract power from plants - and she had better not let anybody else find out she can do more, since that’s taboo.

But amid all of this, Ireland never loses sight of the human story. Laura is a queer young woman from Pennsylvania. We get to see her as someone adapting to the big city, as someone discovering her heritage, as someone struggling with falling in love. Skylark is Laura’s boss, who must endure secondary and tertiary levels of discrimination at the Colored Auxiliary, both as a woman and as someone who doesn’t wish to subordinate the work of nature-based magicians to the Mechomancers. (I would call this a paranormal historical with strong romantic elements rather than a romance. If you want to know if it has an HEA, I’ll put it behind the spoiler tag:

Yes, it does.

Rust in the Root is one of the many books that has a modern YA classification, but I think YA is the easiest place to sell a racially diverse, queer fantasy, so that’s where the publisher puts it. I desperately hope you’ll be open to it even if you have preconceived notions of what YA can be.

Buy it at: Amazon, Audible or your local independent retailer

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Grade : A

Sensuality: Kisses

Review Date : September 21, 2022

Publication Date: 09/2022

Recent Comments …

Caroline Russomanno

I'm a history geek and educator, and I've lived in five different countries in North America, Asia, and Europe. In addition to the usual subgenres, I'm partial to YA, Sci-fi/Fantasy, and graphic novels. I love to cook.

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